More plants for Dry Shade (Part II)

by Sara Williams
Saskatchewan Perennial Society

Here are another half dozen plants that do well in shade that’s on the dry shade. Just remember to keep them evenly moist during their first year. And to mulch them to a depth of at least four inches with post peelings or clean straw.

Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana)

The genus name is from fraga, the classical Latin name for strawberry, derived from fragans meaning fragrant, alluding to the delightful smell of the fruit. Virginia is one of its many native habitats that include the temperate regions of both North and South America.

Strawberries are stoloniferous plants, which makes them so effective as ground covers. They have attractive compound leaves, white flowers in early summer, and of course, delectable fruit, mostly red. Our native strawberry, 10 to 15 cm (4-6 in.) high, makes an excellent ground cover with numerous runners.

Plant them in full sun to partial shade in a loamy soil rich in organic matter. Our native strawberry is quite drought tolerant once established. It is best used as  ground cover and is

easily propagated by runners and (more patiently) by seed.

False Solomon’s seal, star-flowered Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum stellatum, syn. Smilacina stellata)

Native to moist woodlands of a large portion of North America including parts of the Canadian prairies, false Solomon’s seal is surprisingly undemanding and moderately drought tolerant once established. It is best purchased from a nursery specializing in native plants. Accidentally transplanted, it has grown under pines on sandy soil in Sara’s garden for years.

The botanical names are descriptive. Maianthemum is from the Greek Maios, May, and athema, bloom, while stellatum means starlike and describes the form of the flower. About 30 cm (12 in.) high, plants produce single stems of alternate, lanceolate, stem-clasping leaves. Star-shaped, white flowers form on terminal racemes in May. Only 30 cm (12 in.) in height, the light green leaves turn golden in fall.

It spreads by creeping rhizomes to form colonies and is very much at home in a shade or woodland garden and also works very well as a ground cover in shade. Propagate by division.

Siberian barren strawberry (Waldsteinia ternata)

This is a plant that deserves much greater availability in our garden centres and nurseries. It’s tough, good looking, hardy, and adaptable to sun or shade. The common name, Siberian barren strawberry, speaks volumes: it’s ruggedly hardy, barren (do not expect it to produce fruit) and its leaves resemble those of the strawberry (glossy green leaves in clusters of three). Only 10 to 15 cm (4-6 in.) in height, it’s equally at home in sun or shade, with or without water. Small, bright yellow flowers bloom from late spring to early summer.

Western Canada violet (Viola canadensis)

Native to the woodlands of the prairie provinces, this is a hardy, enduring and attractive groundcover of 15 to 30 cm (6-12 in.) tall for dry shade. Fragrant white flowers with a yellow eye and distinct purple-pink veins appear in late spring and early summer above heart-shaped foliage.

‘Sem’ false spirea (Sorbaria sorbifolia)

A tough, hardy shrub, ‘Sem’ is a fairly recent addition to our arsenal of ground covers. It survives in deep shade with little water once established. It emerges in the spring with startling pink-orange-golden foliage mingled with lime green, brightening even the gloomiest shade. Pinnately compound leaves and white feathery flowers in late summer add to its landscape value. Up to 1 m (3 ft.) in height, it eventually forms a continuous understory (ideal below taller trees) through suckering. As attractive as the foliage appears in a nursery pot in spring, don’t be fooled into thinking that it will be well behaved in a shrub border. It will be out of bounds within a season. Use it as intended: as a ground cover.

Virginia creeper (Parthenoccissus quinquefolia)

The genus name echoes the common name: parthenos is the Greek word for virgin and kissos means ivy. (It was first introduced to England from the Virginia colony in 1629.) The species name describes the foliage: quinque means five and folia, leaf, thus the five leaflets that make up the compound leaf.

Although a vine, Virginia creeper also works as a groundcover, particularly on slopes. It is most admired for its brilliant scarlet fall foliage which will be somewhat subdued in shade. Hardy, fast growing and vigorous, it is drought-tolerant once established. It grows in sun or shade in most soils. Leafhoppers are sometimes present and powdery mildew can be a problem during periods of high humidity if air circulation is poor.

The large leaves (5-15 cm / 2-6 in.) are palmately compound, each with five toothed leaflets. The inconspicuous flowers are followed by small blue berries resembling grapes.

Sara Williams is the author and coauthor of many books including Creating the Prairie Xeriscape, Gardening Naturally with Hugh Skinner and, with Bob Bors, the recently published Growing Fruit in Northern Gardens. She continues to give workshops on a wide range of gardening topics throughout the prairies.

This column is provided courtesy of the Saskatchewan Perennial Society (SPS; ). Check our website or Facebook page ( All Saskatchewan Perennial Society events are on hold until further notice